Meet Bandit, the new brand running New York
New York might be the capital of the world, but it’s never had its own running brand. Not in the way Portland has Nike or Boston has Tracksmith and New Balance.
New York City, a running mecca, home to one of the world’s six major marathons. (Not to mention its status as a cultural cauldron, the birthplace of innumerable innovations from baseball to hip hop.) No couldn’t-be-from-anywhere-else label for those who live to smash miles.
Until now. Meet Bandit, the Brooklyn brand that’s stuck to its community roots even as it has relaunched on a much more ambitious scale over the weekend.
Bandit began in late 2020 when a tech-industry product manager, Tim West, was living in Williamsburg and spending every spare minute running with the Brooklyn Track Club (BKTC). Quick background on Tim: he’s that guy who’s always been entrepreneurial, “literally the lemonade-stand kid”, as he puts it. A skateboarder who created his own label in middle school to sell stickers and t-shirts. Competitive and athletic, too. A Region 1 All-American soccer player in high school, Division 1 in college, who then found running through his father, an Ironman lifer.
“I wanted something that was reflective of the New York City grind … New York is a tough city – I’m not going to beat around the bush.”
“I really enjoyed the mental side, so I took up ultra running and I put myself through challenges like running a marathon around a track during the hottest hours of the day, or running a 50-mile ultra around a 0.8-mile loop,” Tim says when we catch up on a video call just 48 hours before the launch. (He seemed remarkably calm, by the way.)
“I did the Zion 50k and I just fell in love with running, and I also fell in love with the community again. Very reminiscent of my skateboarding days, when I found Brooklyn Track Club I was like, ‘Oh, I love this community, and I want to make a brand in it.’
“I started Bandit alone in my basement apartment in Williamsburg and I dedicated my entire savings account to it. Essentially, I ran it like a typical streetwear brand where, instead of doing seasonal collections, we just did everything with drops.”
“Everything” began, humbly enough, with socks. A comfortable, stylish running sock just happened to be the thing Tim really needed at the time. Right from the start, Bandit focused on community and storytelling.
“So, we would tell an amazing story around a community member or a community event [featuring] a new product and then we would drop that product shortly after that. It got to the point where the drops were selling out in just a few minutes.
“It was going really well. So I decided to shut it all down and rebuild it from scratch.
“I decided to pitch it to someone who believed in the same vision that I believed in, which is to be the next great running apparel brand and really help evolve the full experience of running across racing, training, products, storytelling and every touchpoint, whether you’re a spectator, first timer or an Olympian.”
Now he’s surrounded by a team that includes the person he trusts most in the world, his brother Nick, an experienced executive and early team member at top consumer and technology startups, as CEO; and the woman he describes as the Michael Jordan of sportswear design, Ardith Singh, as his cofounder. Backed by legit legends in the local running scene – including Tempo contributor Tim Rossi, BKTC founder Steve Finley and professional sports photographer Jason Suarez – who are taking care of brand, community building and storytelling.
I ask West about the cheeky brand name. Don’t take it too literally, he says.
“I wanted something that was reflective of the New York City grind and the New York City essence. New York is a tough city – I’m not going to beat around the bush. And so, I was thinking of a bunch of different names and when I wrote down Bandit, I talked to a couple of race directors who absolutely loved it … If you know, you know.”
The name stuck. Tim loves the New York running community and wants Bandit to lift up the people, clubs and crews who have so readily embraced his fledgling label. Plans are afoot for all kinds of community events, group training programs, road races, pop ups and celebrations.
The thing about New York running, Tim says, is it’s democratic and grassroots.
“The clubs lead it. The people lead it. It’s a decentralised leadership; there’s no one single leader, and that’s not what Bandit is here to do either. We’re here to have all ships rise. There are so many amazing clubs: you have Brooklyn Track Club, Boogie Down Bronx, Old Man Run Club, Goldfinger – and we hope to figure out ways to support all of them.
“For instance, next Sunday we’re opening up our space so Goldfinger Track Club can do yoga in our headquarters. There’s no money, there’s no exchange, it’s just, ‘Oh yeah, we can support – gladly.’ We’ll have an aid station outside our HQ; we very intentionally put our HQ right on the ground floor of a very popular running route so that we can keep people hydrated and really support people. And hopefully that will always be the case that the people and the clubs lead the culture.”
Everyday people will always be part of the Bandit story, Tim says.
“I’ve always been really curious, and I think that everybody has a story. I would love for Bandit to be synonymous with unearthing stories about people who might otherwise not get a spotlight on them.”
“New York has such a dynamic and amazing running scene and that is also where I see a lot of opportunity. It comes super naturally to me, like when I see someone on the track – someone who’s not an elite or sub-elite athlete, or an influencer of any sort, but is an amazing person with an amazing story who shows up every day and is just trying to get better, and there’s people like this, there’s clubs like this – I’ve just always wanted to tell their story.
“For instance, Malcolm Ebanks, a Masters runner from the Bronx – he doesn’t even have an Instagram, he made one because he now wants to post what we end up creating with him, and Jason [Suarez, Bandit’s head of storytelling] is going to create an amazing story with him – but, you know, he’s technically our first sponsored athlete because we’re supporting his attempt to run the Speed Project solo. He’s a guidance counsellor at a CUNY school and he’s just a community legend but, outside these walls, nobody really knows about him. Yet. Right? So we’ll very literally tell stories about these awesome people just because they deserve it and I think it’s amazing.”
Tim says this focus on real people means Bandit will never use models in its marketing, only “genuine members from the community”. And he’s proud of the sense of ownership his customers have.
“In New York there’s not really a big running brand and I think people are chomping at the bit here to have one. I think that’s why Bandit really resonated. People were proud to be building this together for the first time. People really feel – and they are – that they’re the owners in this.
“I asked for feedback for everything we’ve ever done from tons of people. Like for instance, the first thing we did for the new product stuff we’re creating, the first thing was to invite a hundred community members in here to bring us their favourite and least favourite products. We had two days of happy hours, just talking about what they like and don’t like. I like to say there’s no guessing around here. We ask everybody everything, and New York is great for that.”
Products on the horizon include Bandit wear testing a new range of performance gear while trying to win the 340-mile Speed Project, an unsanctioned desert relay from Santa Monica to Las Vegas. More generally though, the design – as you would expect – honours the five boroughs with an iconic, minimalist aesthetic. The brand’s lifestyle range is on an equal footing with its performance products.
“It’s very elevated, it’s very design forward. It’s not innovative and futuristic but it’s certainly not nostalgic and traditional. It’s very much of the moment, without trying to chase trends. It’s a really confidence-building brand, like, you put it on, you feel like a badass – you really are.”
Always metropolitan, black is a cornerstone of the brand’s colourways but, under Singh’s direction, Bandit will be embracing a fuller colour range drawn from its home city’s urban environment.
“When we started creating our new brand palette, the first place we turned was New York City. We started really looking around and creating mood boards and pulling out key colours: there’s like the bike lane, and the colour of the river, and the colour of the Empire State Building at night. It became really obvious what our colours needed to be.”
Eventually – but not yet – Tim hopes to give Bandit’s followers something a little sturdier than socks to wear on their feet. For now though, he simply hopes to raise up the people around him.
“I just want to make sure that Bandit has the biggest positive impact on the running community as possible. If we could somehow quantify the number of people we inspired to join or stay in the sport, that would be a dream. I would love to help as many people as possible, through our training programs and the races that we’re going to put on, to PR or do something for the first time. And I want, when people are wearing our products, for them to feel more confident than they’ve ever felt.”